Rich Lunak and Innovation Works continue to change the startup world

Innovation Works may have to innovate again as hardware and software grow closer, but that’s how companies remain leaders for decades.

“You’ve got to not be afraid to innovate and disrupt your own markets and your own products,” Lunak says. “In this case, we could have stuck to the same old formula of working with companies, but we realized these trends were dramatically changing the markets and areas that our entrepreneurs were working in, and launched new programs and services to deal with that.”

As lines blur and the market changes, he says you can sit still and do nothing or be out in front.

“For first movers, like in our case, you can grab national attention and national brand and then be a sought-after place, where you have entrepreneurs that vie for these programs and apply to them from all around the world. Or, be the laggard that adopts late and is trying to play catchup,” he says.

There’s risk in going first, so it has to be measured. However, Lunak says, if you give your employees the freedom to think big and innovate, they often overachieve and surprise you with the results.

“If you’ve got people like that, that are ambitious and strong, sometimes the worst thing you can do is micromanage and stifle them,” he says.

For example, Ilana Diamond who runs AlphaLab Gear, was a seasoned entrepreneur who ran, built and sold a global consumer electronics company that sold products through big box retailers. Diamond has been a force of nature that built the program to what it is today.

She’s helped Innovation Works stay on the forefront as a national model for creating a thriving startup ecosystem.

“In the businesses that I ran, a metric that we always tracked was how much revenue we were generating from new products, viewing that as our future growth potential and the engine that could feed our profitability,” Lunak says. “You’ve got to be willing to take risks and stay on the front edge of things.”

How to reach: Innovation Works, (412) 681-1520; AlphaLab; AlphaLab Gear; Riverfront Ventures

 

Takeaways:

  • Faster, more fluid product development requires new thinking.
  • Design with manufacturability and serviceability in mind.
  • Don’t be afraid to disrupt yourself to stay on the cutting edge.

 

The Lunak File:

Name: Rich Lunak
Title: President and CEO
Company: Innovation Works

Born: In the Pittsburgh area, Bell Acres

Education: Bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from Carnegie Mellon University; master’s in business administration from Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I started early, like a lot of kids, with paper routes and mowing lawns, but the first significant job was helping my dad repair cars. He was an auto repairman, like body work, and he did work in our garage.

I learned the value of hard work and that you can sometimes overlook the skill and artistry of a job that looks simple on the surface. I learned to respect every aspect of a job and how every contribution is critical to the end product.

As someone involved with the community, what do you see as a big issue that the city needs to work on? Pittsburgh has tremendous momentum and it serves as a model for a lot of regions across the Midwest that are trying to diversify and build their economy, whether it’s the strength of our economy or quality of life and lifestyle in what our community has to offer.

As we build, though, it’s important to do it in a way that’s inclusive and makes sure that opportunities are available and shared and accessible by everyone in our community. But Pittsburgh is a place that can get that right and it has a lot of terrific civic leadership right now.

You said you read a lot and listen to many podcasts. What are some of your favorites? I mostly read nonfiction. I like books by Michael Lewis and David McCullough, as well as biographies like those on Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. “The Double Helix” talks about the discovery of DNA, “The Last Days of Night” is about Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, and “The Devil in the White City” is another excellent book. As far as fiction, I enjoyed “All the Light We Cannot See.”

For podcasts, I listed work-related ones like “How I Built This with Guy Raz,” “Stuff You Should Know,” podcasts by the Harvard Business Review, “This Week in Startups” and “This Week in Tech.” For fun, I like the “60 Minutes” podcast, “Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin,” “Song Exploder” and “Nerdist Podcast.”